Stop Painful Menstrual Cramps with Chinese Herbs

herbs for pmsLately this is my favorite topic and formula to make in my herb granule pharmacy .. because  the calls I receive go something like this.  “I took it once & I’m off the couch and back to normal”,  “I can’t believe those herbs work”,  “Why didn’t you tell me before”, “I didn’t take a single motrin this month”,  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  So here’s some information about the herbs in the Pacific Herbs PMS Relief Herb Pack & some interesting information on well conducted research on menstrual pain. 

Don’t mask the pain with NSAID’s  try an approach that’s worked for centuries, Chinese Herbal Medicine.  An international nonprofit organization, known as the Cochrane Collaboration, studied the effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in relieving menstrual pain compared to western drugs.  Their conclusion:  “Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhea roughly doubled pain relief and improvement in overall symptoms compared with conventional Western pharmaceuticals.”

Here are a few common Chinese herbs used for painful menstrual cramps, ( All our in our formula plus more)

1. Dong Gui (Chinese Angelica  or Angelica Sinensis) Also known as the “female ginseng,” it is commonly used to regulate the menstrual cycle and relieve menstrual cramps.  It also helps to relieve menopausal symptoms, reduce PMS and anemia and to re-establish a menstrual cycle after cessation of birth control pills.  It is commonly sold as a single herb tea, bagged or loose.  It is considered a king herb or premier herb in Chinese gynecological disease because of its ability to harmonize the blood in Chinese medicine.  Dong Gui is also considered antispasmodic.  The coumarin chemicals present in this herb may help dilate blood vessels and relax the smooth muscles of the uterus, thus relieving menstrual cramping.

2. Chuan Xiong (Chuanxiong  Rhizoma) This herb is also a key medicinal herb for treating pain.  It improves blood circulation and promotes the flow of “qi” or vital energy.  Chinese women, dating back to the Song Dynasty, used to take this Chinese herb in the form of soup.  The soup is called a Four Substance Decoction and includes three other herbs:  angelica, red peony and Chinese foxglove.  The soup and tea are still used today as a blood tonic to relieve PMS, stop menstrual pain and improve overall health, especially after giving birth.

3. Bai Shao (White Peony Root) White Peony Root nourishes the blood and improves circulation.  It is also used for a wide variety of gynecological problems.  The peony root is considered a   liver tonic in Chinese medicine.  By strengthening the liver, it helps to increase the efficiency of protein and fat metabolism, thus inhibiting the excessive synthesis of prostaglandins that may cause an over-active uterus and endometrial pain.

4. Yi Mu Cao (Chinese Motherwort) Leaves from this herb are used to treat menstrual problems.  They have been shown to improve blood circulation and clear blood clots that occur in menstrual disorders and after childbirth.  The leaves also promote diuresis and relieve edema.  Studies on the alkaloid leonurine showed that this substance stimulates the uterus of rabbits, cats, dogs and guinea pigs.2

5. Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis Rhizome) There are two main functions of this Chinese herb:  to strengthen blood circulation and to relieve pain.  In conjunction with chuan xiong it is known to help both body aches and headaches.  Corydalis is related to the opium poppy.  Although only 1% in strength compared to opium, it is a very effective pain reliever.  The active chemical constituent di- tetrahydropalmatine (THP) is a neuroactive alkaloid with analgesic action that relieves cramping pain. Formulas or groups of Chinese herbs are more beneficial than single herb remedies because the herbs work synergistically for conditions such as menstrual cramps.  The Cochran study also stated that:  “The herbal remedies were also significantly better at relieving painful cramps and other symptoms than acupuncture or a hot water bottle, with overall promising finding.  Chinese herbs overall, whether standardized or tailored, yielded better pain relief than conventional pharmaceutical therapies.” Chinese herbal medicine can be a bit intimidating when you don’t know anything about these herbs, and the five herbs above are only a few of the herbs beneficial for menstrual cramps in the Chinese herbal encyclopedias.  Asian pharmacies sell prescriptions of herbal teas and pills daily, and Asian cultures have used herbs successfully for hundreds of years. 

By replacing NSAIDs with Chinese herbs, women receive an additional benefit of avoiding the nasty NSAID3 side effects such as upset stomach, heartburn, ulcers and rashes, and liver damage, to name a few.  Women don’t need to suffer month after month.  You can use Chinese herb supplements to be pain free and PMS symptom free all month long.

Check the research for yourself: Primary source: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Source; Zhu X, et al “Chinese herbal medicine for primary dysmenorrhoea” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007;3: CD005288.

  1. Chinese Medicine Program at the University of Western Sydney.1 (fourth issue for 2007 of The Cochrane Library)

2.  Yin, J. Modern Research and Clinical Application of Chinese  Materia Medica (2) pp 218-219 Beijing: Chinese  Medical Classic Press.

NSAID are Non-Sterodial Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.  Generics and name brands include:  ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, naproxen sodium, Aleve, aspirin, Bayer, Bufferin, acetaminophen, and Tylenol.

Malaria and how Chinese Medicine is Advancing Science

microscope for malariaIn case you haven’t already heard, today is World Malaria Day,
April 25th, 2009.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate World Malaria Day than to write  on a Traditional Chinese Medicinal herb and it’s benefits for  malaria. Ok, I know most of us in the west don’t know much or maybe anything about this disease. Some may even be thinking… isn’t malaria one of those plagues from the middle age

Malaria is the number one killer in underdeveloped countries, especially prevalent in Africa where it’s an epidemic. As many as 5 million people each year contract malaria, many recover, many do not. Malaria kills nearly one million people worldwide each year. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given millions of dollars for malaria research with the goal of eliminating malaria in our lifetime and by the looks of recent developments, well… read on.

So what does this have to do with Chinese herbal medicine and why did I choose this topic? Malaria has been successfully treated with Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. This is not news, well not to Acupuncturists or Chinese Medical Doctors nor to the scientists and drug companies searching out a cure or a vaccine for malaria. What is news is what Reuters published in an article (yesterday) which I’ve cited below and am quoting here, “elimination (of malaria) in a number of countries is certainly in sight.” Fantastic, right?!

Here’s what really exciting! “New medical treatments such as a drug developed by a Swiss pharmaceuticals company  Novartis using artemisinin, a compound derived from a herb used in Chinese traditional medicine, are driving down deaths and infections, said “Chris Hentschel”  of the Medicines for Malaria Venture.” The FDA has also recently approved the drug Coartem, an artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACT) for malaria, which is said to have a 96% cure rate  Can you imagine: A pharmaceutical company using an herb-derived compound? Should we be shocked?

We in the Chinese Medical community are not shocked. We know the use of Chinese Medicinal herbs have been used for centuries with g areat success and we’ve all known that Artemisinin, Qing Hao, has been successfully used in the treatment of malaria. But doesn’t it feels great to be vindicated through “Big Pharma” ? When any big pharmaceutical company decides to study the compounds in “our” (Chinese) medicine cabinet we can all stand proud and say, look big pharma, our herbs have proven compounds that even your labs haven’t been able to invent and there’s more in the medicine cabinet than just Artemisinin.

The credibility of Chinese herbal medicine is coming full circle in the scientific age. We can only hope this is just the tip of the iceberg. The efficacy of Chinese herbal medicine has a 2000 plus year history. Reuter’s goes on to report, “The treatment, administered to 57 million people last year, saved half a million lives last year.” That’s big news! If there was a drug that saved 500,00 people in the US, last year alone, we would be hearing about it. Because it’s in underdeveloped nations, this news doesn’t make the nightly 5 o’clock. But I can think of no better way than to start my blog page with what should be the Biggest News in the world today, especially on World Malaria Day.

Post Script:

A prominent physician and alchemist named Ge Hong (284-364CE) wrote a formulary called Zhou Hou Bei Zhi Fang (Prescriptions within Arm”s Reach for Use in Emergencies) Many of the formulas in this book are still in use today. He was the first to mention qing hao, (Artemisia Annua) as a treatment for malaria.